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Democrats with spines! 5.12.2003

Today, in orderto break quorum and prevent a vote on redistricting, nearly 60 members of the Texas House didn't show up to the legislature. This is a really big deal, and you may have already read about it, because it's being talked about everywhere, even internationally.

All hail to the Dems with spines! This is completely politically motivated legislation that would do nothing but make Tom Delay happy, keep Democrats out of office, and, worst of all, keep our communities from being represented adequately by our legislators.

If you haven't heard enough about this already, take a look here. Even the GOP's own people think their map is unconstitutional.

Following is a statement issued by the Texas House Democrats who are participating in the walkout today:

Statement - 5-12-03 For Immediate Release

Why We Are Here - Working To Defend Texas

We did not choose our path, Tom Delay did. We are ready to stand on the House floor and work day and night to deal with real issues facing Texas families. At a time when we are told there is no time to deal with school finance, and when we must still resolve issues like the state budget crisis and insurance reform, the fact that an outrageous partisan power grab sits atop the House calendar is unconscionable.

Our House rules, including those regarding a quorum, were adopted precisely to protect the people from what is before the House today - the tyranny of a majority. By our actions today, we are fulfilling our responsibilities to our constituents and upholding the oaths we took to serve the people of Texas.

The redistricting plan scheduled today before the Texas House of Representatives is the ultimate in political greed - it is undemocratic, unjust and unprecedented. It's a power grab by Tom DeLay, pure and simple. The current congressional plan has been ruled by our United States Supreme Court to be constitutional and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Elections have been held, and we should respect the will of Texas voters.

Our Republican Attorney General ruled that this map can stand for the decade, and that we are not mandated to do redraw congressional districts this session. Many Republicans privately oppose it. Texas newspapers have editorialized against it. We do redistricting every ten years, not whenever those in power demand it.

Our Republican Attorney General ruled that we are not obligated to do this. Many Republicans privately oppose taking up redistricting. Texas newspapers editorialized against it. We do redistricting every ten years, not whenever those in power demand it.

This misbegotten plan is a monument to Tom DeLay's ego, appetite for power and disregard for our constitutional rights. He drew the map. He insists on passing it. No one benefits more than Tom DeLay. He believes he should choose who represents Texas in Congress, not Texas voters.

House Democrats are taking a stand for fair play for all Texans. We refuse to participate in an inherently unfair process that slams the door of opportunity in the face of Texas voters.

We won't be present today - or any day - that the House plans to consider this outrageous partisan action. We refuse to provide a quorum for Tom DeLay's attempt to grab power at the expense of the rights all Texans are guaranteed under our Texas and United States Constitutions.

We refuse to be present:

Because the Texas House has more important business than satisfying Tom DeLay: a $10 billion shortfall, a school finance crisis, a troubled economy, insurance abuse (our Governor's declared emergency, and still not passed) and a looming disaster in health care for the children, the elderly and the disabled.

Because the House Redistricting Committee violated the Voting Rights Act, and refused to respect the voice of all Texans.

Because the actual map to be considered by the House was intentionally hidden, then suddenly introduced at the last minute and voted out at a late night meeting with no opportunity for public comment.

Because DeLay's gerrymander splits cities and fractures traditional communities of interest-like the grotesque plan to crack Austin into four separate districts, with tentacles that stretch from the Capitol to Houston on the east and southward hundreds of to the miles to the Mexican border.

Texas today has more important business than bending to Tom DeLay: like a $10 billion budget shortfall, a school finance, a troubled economy, insurance abuse and a looming disaster in health care for children, the elderly and the disabled. We are ready to work to solve the problems caused by budget cuts in education and health care, not on cutting up the State of Texas to satisfy Tom DeLay's quest for power.

We do not stand alone.

"Texas should ignore DeLay's redistricting plan."
Dallas Morning News, 05/11/03

"At a time when Texas is grasping for pennies to immunize Texas children, legislators don't need to waste resources giving booster shots to political power plays."
Houston Chronicle, 02/02/03

"DeLay's raw partisan effort….is a damaging distraction that should be abandoned…The decision to make these changes is much too significant to rush through the legislature to satisfy DeLay's appetite for power."
San Antonio Express News, 05/07/03

"The map finally kicked out of Crabb's committee…is a textbook example of everything wrong with the redistricting process. It was largely done in secret.."
Waco Tribune Harold

"The map is a travesty that shatters the community of interest that is the foundation of congressional redistricting…It's a Machiavellian scheme that should be soundly defeated."
Austin American Statesman, 05/02/03

"Until DeLay gets elected to an office in Austin, he needs to keep his mind on Washington matters."
San Angelo Standard Times, 02/14/03

Texans support a state income tax? 5.5.2003

A pretty good legislative roundup appeared in yesterday's Houston Chronicle.

And, of course, it mentions the Senate's proposed repeal of the "Robin Hood" school finance legislation to take the burden off property owners; the current plan would be to make up the shortfall by increasing sales taxes. Right now it looks like that legislation will stall, because the House isn't ready to deal with it.

I know this won't happen this session, but I still think an income tax may be the best way to fund schools and relieve the property tax burden from homeowners. We already have an extremely high sales tax, and increased taxes on services effect small business owners significantly. Decreasing property taxes will help some homeowners, sure, but will help large corporations, who own large amounts of property, much more significantly. Once again, big business and the wealthy business owners will end up with more of a break, and us regular homeowners will continue to feel the burden of a property tax, although decreased, and a new burden from higher sales taxes, which can't be deducted.

The new sales tax rate would be between 7.5 and 7.85 percent, and would make the sales tax rate in Texas the highest in the nation. Here's the current state sales tax breakdown.

The kinds of services that would be effected by the sales tax expansion would be, according the Houston Chronicle, "home construction and remodeling, barber and beauty services, funerals, child day care, legal and accounting services, advertising, veterinary services, and automotive repairs. Medical and dental services would still be exempt." In other words, many of the services we get from local and small business owners will be taxed.

In the end, the Senate claims its current plan would decrease the tax burden for Texas' poorest residents. However, they admit it would also increase the amount of taxes middle class people will have to pay, and that it would, of course, lower the tax burden on wealthy.

Texas definitely needs to relieve homeowners of their large property tax burdens and find a way out of our education crisis. I can't help but think the an income tax is the best way to do that.

I'm interested in getting everybody to think about us having a state sales tax in a positive light. We've probably got until 2005 to think about it, because I don't expect any solutions to be voted into effect this year. I suggest perusing the Center for Public Policy Priorities site for more info.

Wartime sacrifies, but not for the wealthy 4.29.2003

Here's a little tidbit from Molly Ivin's column in this week's Texas Observer:

"Sen. Ted Stevens suggested that New York City's cops and firefighters should work overtime without pay as a wartime sacrifice. 'I really feel strongly that we ought to find some way to convince people that there ought to be some volunteerism at home. Those people overseas in the desert -- they're not getting overtime. ... I don't know why the people working for the cities and the counties ought to be paid overtime when they're responding to matters of national security.'

"Stevens, R-Alaska, had just voted for tax cuts that will give those who make a million dollars a year $92,000 more to spend on polo ponies. Some must sacrifice more than others."

A fellah I sent this to pointed out that soldiers do in fact get hazard pay "in the desert," and their salaries aren't taxed while they are in the field.

There's another good story here from The Nation about Bush's tax breaks for the wealthy and how they affect our economy, health and welfare, and security.

And since I'm backing Howard Dean, I wanted to give you a link to his thoughts on fiscal responsibility.

Finally, if you'd like to tell Mr. Stevens what you think about his comments, you can write him from this site.

HB 1911 stalls out in committee!

That nasty bill has been at least pretty much defeated.

There is still a chance that the bill could be resurrected any time before May 12, the deadline for all bills to be considered by their committees. The same is true of HB 916, which would disqualify anyone who was not heterosexual from adopting a child. Right now the Juvenile Justice and Family Affairs committee says that bill won't be taken up, but there's always a chance that something could change before the May 12 deadline.

Oh, yeah, and the Texas DOMA could be voted into law as early as this week. Click here today to find out more.

Can Bush lose in 2004? 4.25.2003

Sure. Check out this encouraging article from AlterNet.

The wacky transformation of HB 1911 4.23.2003

This is a late-night legislative update. Please excuse my spelling and grammar errors, for it's nearly 2 a.m.

Well, I got duped. I just got back from the House State Affairs committee hearing for HB 1911, the bill that used to be about disqualifying any unmarried people from becoming foster parents. Guess what? That bill isn't about that any more.

You guys might remember an earlier e-mail in which I mentioned that Rep. Talton from Pasadena, who authored HB 1911 and who likes to try and pass lots of hateful legislation in every time he gets a chance, had authored another very similar bill this session. This is HB 194, which specifically says that homosexual and bisexual people would be prohibited from becoming foster parents. This bill was sent to the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues committee, where it is almost certain to stay - chances are, this committee will decide not to let this bill go to a vote on the House floor, and thus keep it from becoming law.

So, Rep. Talton authored a second bill, HB 1911. No one can author the same bill twice in the same session, so this one was pretty darn different - it disqualified any unmarried people from being foster parents. This was a very far-reaching bill that would have displaced more than 2200 kids from their foster homes and cost the state on the order of $15.7 million to enforce in the short term. It was a crazy, short-sighted, flabbergasting bill.

However, that's not the bill that was considered by the committee tonight. When Rep. Talton finally showed up to present the bill (sometime around 10:30) he was ready to submit a substitution for the language in the bill. With this substitution, he made the bill essentially the same as his earlier bill, 194 - he simply substituted homosexual and bisexual people for unmarried people. Thus, he got around the rule that would not allow him to just push the same bill through another committee, and he got his anti-gay bill heard by a committee much more likely to embrace anti-gay legislation (there are six co-authors of the House's version of the anti-gay Texas "Defense of Marriage Act" bill on the nine-member State Affairs committee as opposed to one on the Juvenile Justice committee).

Rep. Talton then stood at the front of the room and lumped lesbians and gay men in with pedophiles and sexual offenders. When asked about the long-term effects of marginalizing gay parents, he said he didn't consider gay people "parents." He told the committee that "some of us" don't think that homosexuality is "right," and that this legislation didn't have anything to do with his religious beliefs, but that it was simply a reflection of his Texas values. He said that homosexuality is a learned behavior - in other words, it's a choice - and that children who are taught that the homosexual lifestyle is acceptable would choose it.

I could tell you here that the "homosexual lifestyle" isn't a choice, that being gay is something that happens to people, I didn't make a choice, blah, blah, blah. But you know what? That completely misses the point. The point is people's sexual orientation should not play any role in how they are treated by the law, whether they chose it or not. I deserve equal rights. What gives Rep. Talton, or Chisum, or Wentworth, or anybody, the right to write laws that oppress me? What gives this state the state the right to enact those laws?

I went home before the testimony was over, but there shouldn't be a vote on HB 1911 tonight. To continue to show your opposition to this bill now that it specifically targets gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, contact the members of the House State Affairs committee.

Frankly, all this makes me feel really mad and really sad. I cried in the car after I left the meeting. In some ways, when you're gay or lesbian, I guess you get kind of used to people being mean and nasty, and you get kind of used to being the brunt of oppressive legislation, and you get kind of used to having to defend yourself all the time rather than just assuming that everything will turn out okay. But you don't really ever get used to any of that, and it's tiring, and it feels awful.

That's all for now. Goodnight.

How much does hate cost? $15,708,921 4.22.2003

HB 1911, the anti-foster care bill, gets its scheduled hearing today. Not only that, the fiscal note for this bill has been released.

Check it out! If HB 1911 is passed, 2,252 kids will have to be taken out of 1560 foster homes. Those kids will end up waiting for new homes in emergency shelters and residential facilities, and kids who are just entering the foster care system will end up having to wait longer than usual for homes in the same shelters.

Wow! All that for a mere $15.7 million (over the next two years, and about $7 million per year after that)? What a bargin!

See yesterday's entry for info on contacting the State Affairs Committee and stopping this before it gets a vote.

This bill is different from HB 194, which is another anti-gay foster care bill by the same author, Representative Robert Talton (R) from Pasadena. Click here to see more about all these bills.

The Anti-Foster Care Bill gets a hearing 4.18.2003

The following text is taken from the "Stop1911" website. Please visit this site to find fax numbers, e-mail addresses and more information.

One of the most successful efforts of the foster care system in the last 30 years has been the placement of children with members of their own extended family -- grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Not all members of a child's extended family are married. Many may be single, divorced or widowed. In 2001, 22.3% of children in the foster care system were placed in the custody of relatives.

In those cases where the child is to be removed from the home, HB1911 would prevent the placement of that child with their own relative based solely on the criteria of them being an "unmarried individual."

All professional child welfare organizations have publicly denounced any laws that would permanently remove groups of people who could assist in fostering and/or adopting children. With more than 42,000 child abuse/neglect cases opened each year, limiting the pool of available foster parents only serves to strain an already stressed system and increases the likelihood of doing more harm to those most in need. Please OPPOSE House Bill 1911.

HB 1911, a bill that would prohibit the placement of a child in a foster home with any unmarried individuals, will be heard in the House Committee on State Affairs on Tuesday, April 22, 2003. You are urged to attend the hearing and fill out a Witness Affirmation form to go on record as opposing this malicious legislation. Because legislative offices will be closed over the weekend, please fax the committee members at the numbers below.

What: Sign a Witness Affirmation form AGAINST HB 1911.
How: Attend the public committee hearing and sign the Witness Affirmation form.
When: Tuesday, April 22, 2003 at 2PM or upon adjournment. The House may not adjourn until 4pm or 5pm that day.
Where: The John H. Reagan Building, Room 140.
Why: It is a matter of Justice. The neglected and abused children of this state need you to be their advocate.

*If you cannot attend committee hearing, please phone, fax, and email the members of the House Committee on State Affairs to register your opposition to this bill.

Click here to send an e-mail and express your opposition to this bill to everyone on the State Affairs Committee!

And call them! Here are their phone numbers:

Marchant, Kenny (R-Carrollton) HD-99 (512) 463-0468
Madden, Jerry (R-Plano) HD-67 (512) 463-0544
Davis, John (R-Clear Lake) HD-129 (512) 463-0734
Elkins, Gary (R-Houston) HD-135 (512) 463-0722
Goodman, Toby (R-Arlington) HD-93 (512) 463-0562
Cook, Byron (D-Corsicana) HD-8 (512) 463-0730
Gattis, Dan (D-Georgetown) HD-20 (512) 463-0309
Lewis, Glenn (D-Ft. Worth) HD-95 (512) 463-0716
Villarreal, Michael (D-San Ant.) HD-123 (512) 463-0532

They must be stopped! 4.18.2003

Sign this petition right now! It's really important!

A state income tax for Texas? 4.17.2003

I think it might be time. I was just looking at a story in this past week's Austin Chronicle and I, too, have to admit that HB 3437 seems like a pretty good idea to me:

"A couple of sane taxation proposals have in fact been filed. The most comprehensive is HB 3437, by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin. In brief, the bill would create a state income tax -- deductible against federal taxes -- to be used for public education, thereby dramatically reducing both local property taxes and the state sales tax, and replacing both with a much more fair, flexible, and productive revenue system, under which most people, overall, would be taxed less. It is an eminently sensible proposal -- and under current political circumstances, it doesn't have a prayer of passage. Political circumstances do change -- but in the meantime, the Rodriguez bill serves a simple educational purpose: There are alternatives to gridlock, crisis, and stagnation. "

I'm fond of the idea of lower property taxes; mine aren't too terrible yet, but a guy living behind me who had lived there since the 50s lost his house (which was paid off) because he was relatively poor and could afford to pay his taxes as they increased (which they do, every year, just like clockwork). And yet the schools still suffer and important programs are being cut ever year. It's really time to get over the mental block we have in the this state about income tax and just bite the bullet.

There's a good opinion on this in Texas Monthly this month as well. You can click here to read it, but if you haven't been on Texas Monthly's site before you'll need to do their free registration thing.

Doesn't look like I'll be getting married this session 4.16.2003

The Texas Senate passed the Texas "Defense of Marriage Act" yesterday. Now it goes to the House for a vote. This bill is not only nasty, but it's completely redundant. Unfortunately, Jeff Wentworth, San Antonio's GOP senator and author of this bill, has been thought of as a safe Republican because he's always supportive of the choice movement. It looks like he can't be trusted either.

You know, it's hard to sit on the couch watching shows like "Married by America" and "Joe Millionaire" and think that people like Jeff Wentworth believe marriage needs to be defended from gay men and lesbians. It looks like the heterosexuals are doing a pretty good job of damaging the institution of marriage on their own.

(By the way, you still have time to contact your state rep and complain about this, if you hurry. You can click here to find out who your state representatives are. And next time around, don't vote for these schmucks.)

Howard Dean for President 4.15.2003

Following is an open letter, which I've e-mailed to my family and friends:

Hello, folks:

I'm writing to you to talk about a guy who's running for president. His name is Howard Dean, and he's the first candidate I've been really excited about in a while.

Dean is the former governor of Vermont, and he held that position from 1991 until this January. Vermont elects a new governor every two years, so that means he was voted into office for five consecutive terms; obviously, his constituents appreciated him. He chose not to run in 2002, giving him time to concentrate on his 2004 presidential campaign. Before he served as governor, he was the lieutenant governor of Vermont, and he served in the state House for five years.

Now he's vying for the Democratic presidential candidacy, and I'm thrilled. Dean is showing himself to be an extremely straightforward candidate, and seems to be setting the tone for the way the Democrats will present themselves in this next election. You might have heard that John Kerry is the candidate to beat for the Democratic nomination, but right now, Dean and Kerry are neck and neck in New Hampshire pre-primary polls.

His platform includes access to health care for all Americans (he's also an M.D., by the way); a foreign policy that reflects our values as well as our interests; fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget and an end to deficit spending; a good and responsible approach to dealing with the crisis in public education; reasonable gun laws and environmental policies; and guarantees of equal rights under the law for all Americans.

I could tell you all about him, but instead I'm going to point you to a couple of more trustworthy sources. Here's a story from yesterday's Chicago Sun Times.

And here's a good summary from The American Prospect on how all the potential candidates fared at the Children's Defense Fund event last week.

Also, Dean has a tremendous online presence. I really recommend spending some time reading about his position on his own website.

Part of my interest in Dean is that I think the Democrats need a good kick in the pants. The last election left the Dems in a bad way. And, after just a short time, I've realized I cannot tolerate a GOP-controlled state and national government. They are too much against me for me to able to live with them. Thus, I began searching for a way to participate in revitalizing the Democratic Party and get people excited about being Democrats again. I believe that means making a party that is strong and opinionated and willing to stand up for the principles and ideals it has (in theory) embraced since 1948, the year of Harry Truman and the great civil rights platform.

I plan to participate in this process as much as I can - and that means you'll be getting more e-mail about this sort of thing from me. If you have any questions, or you just can't stand to have me sending you this stuff, please let me know. But I really hope you look at this candidate with an open mind.


P.S. Here's just one example of why I'm so passionate about ending the Republican dominance of our government.

Right now, the Texas Legislature is in session. Several bills have been introduced that affect me directly - and negatively. I have pretty simple goals for my life, I think, but they do include being able to have a family. The Republican-led Texas Legislature has quickly passed bills through committee that could keep me from doing that (HB 38, SB 7, HB 916, HB 194, HB 1911). I was reading the paper one morning and realized that I might have to actually leave my home and move to another state to live the life that I want (and deserve) to be able to live. It's never been easy in this country for gay men and lesbians to have the kind of lives everybody else gets to take for granted, but I had always expected things to get better, and I've worked hard to help make them better, and now they're getting worse. I'm extremely angry. And I'm seriously scared.

Do me a favor. If you live in Texas, contact your representative and tell them that you oppose this discriminatory legislation. You can click here to find out who your legislators are.

It's the economy, stupid 4.14.2003

My favorite link of the day:
Budget rhetoric versus reality. This is a nicely done overview of what the Bush adminstration has been saying about the economy, and what's really happening.

Whoa. What a crappy day 3.18.2003

I'm not feeling so good about my world today. I feel personally assaulted by my state government, and disappointed and frightened by the national government.

Here's a story about yesterday's Texas House State Affairs Committee public hearing, in which a "Defense of Marriage Act" for the state of Texas was debated. It's only one of a bunch of bills hitting the legislature that are aimed to make people like me feel unwelcome in our own home state.

Here's international reaction to Bush's "ultimatum" made yesterday. I can't figure out why there needs to be an ultimatum, or how Saddam Hussein is tied to al Qaeda, or why we the people of this democratic nation seem to have no real influence on our government.


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